12:43:10 pm on
Monday 18 Oct 2021

Perils of Commenorations
David Simmonds

Source: Ruxley-Manor.co.uk

When our good friend Bill Wightman died in 2017, we wanted to remember him with the planting of a tree. Eventually, a tree was chosen and planted on the grounds of CML Snider public school, near Main Street. It took place, albeit with the concurrence of the Hillier and Wellington councillors, in the absence of any County rules dealing with planting a memorial tree.

The state of commemorations.

The urge to recognise someone that has recently passed away by planting a dedicated tree or putting a nameplate on a bench is strong and widespread. I am thus pleasantly surprised to see Council is ready to adopt a new policy to deal with such commemorations. it will come before Committee of the Whole on Thursday afternoon. 

For a fee, paid up front, the County will do its best to put the memorial tree or bench where the client wishes it to go and maintain the memorial indefinitely. There are some trade-offs. The size, format and wording of the memorial is up to the County, the County does the installation and no wreaths or flowers are allowed.

The new policy also codifies the rules pertaining to flying flags on the County flagpole, issuing mayoral proclamations and giving civic recognition to deserving citizens. Did you know that when the Canadian Flag is flown at half mast, as it must be in the case of a death in the Royal family and other dignitaries, the flag must not be flown lower than any other flag? Did you know that there are some forty-five days, weeks or months set aside for proclamations already, including the Provincial Day of Action on Litter in May and Miss Supertest Day on 1 November? Did you know that the County will establish an Honour Book, naming people who have received civic recognition; it will be displayed prominently at Shire Hall? 

The County is also proposing to adopt a commemorative road naming policy and to establish a task team to generate a list of approved names for the life of the Council, with the public having the opportunity to suggest names. The task team must choose names that fit into one of several categories; residents killed in combat or public service; residents who have made a significant contribution to the County; local indigenous persons; local flora, fauna and features; “names of historical significance at a regional, provincial or national level,” with priority given to themes with local significance.

Renaming a street would require seventy per cent of the affected residents to agree. This means, I think, the name Swamp College Road will survive any attempt to rename. It is the more uptown sounding Wetlands University Boulevard.

Politics soon rears its ugly head.

Well, you can only go so far into these things until politics rears its head. The commemorations policy expressly states a commemoration must not be allowed if it contains “commercial, ideological, faith-based beliefs, or political overtones, relates to a cause which is illegal, discriminatory, racist or rooted in hatred or violence, or attempts to influence government policy.”

The street naming policy states that a name must not be approved if it is “discriminatory, racist or derogatory,” or if it memorializes an individual “known for discriminatory behaviour and/or beliefs.” Good luck to those who must decide whether an individual was known for discriminatory beliefs or had a cause that was rooted in hatred. 

Doesn’t this just set the table for a rematch over the legacy of Sir John A Macdonald, which was fought so bitterly over the Holding Court sculpture and its placement? The commemoration policy anticipates a continued scrap over that and wants to stay out of it. If the policy does not extend to “murals, statues, headstones, monuments or any other similar installations,” council is out of the decision.

In this case, the battle has already been won by the forces of revision. Any street named after Sir John A in 2021 would be objectionable to a significant and vocal chunk of the population. It would be controversial and by that measure alone would be rejected.

 Instead, we’ll have bland names like Starling Drive and Grapevine Crescent to draw on. What If a name like Blanding’s Turtle Avenue came up for discussion? Would it be thrown out as too political? Ottawa approved an Elvis Lives Lane about twenty years ago, so why not a Frere Brothers Parkway? Is it too facetious? There are options.  

Committees are too stressful.

Cal me a scaredy cat if you wish. I wouldn’t want to have to sit on any committee that deals with commemoration. I haven’t yet recovered from the stress of planting Bill Wightman’s tree.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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